The Air That We Breath. Koestler recognising the value of “our” values.

There is a snappy Arthur Koestler quote doing the rounds. It’s worth seeing the entire paragraph:

The tragedy is that only those realize what oxygen means who know the torture of suffocation; only those who have shared the life of the ordinary native in nazi Germany or Stalinite Russia for at least a year know that disintegration of the human substance which befalls people deprived of their basic liberties. But how many of us are capable of drawing comparisons? The English dock yard worker has not experienced the difference between risking, for the same negligence, a cut in pay or death as a saboteur. The English journalist does not know the difference between a limited freedom of expression and the status of a human teleprinter. The English highbrow, fed up with a statesman’s cigar or a general’s photo-mania, has no idea the abject idiocy of regimented Byzantine leader worship. The English public, disgruntled but secure within the law, does not know the shivering insecurity, the naked horror of an autocratic police-state. They only know their own frustrations. The atmosphere of democracy has become a stale fog, and those who breathe it cannot be expected to be grateful for the air which it contains.

The predicament of western civilization is that it has ceased to be aware of the values which it is in peril of losing.

Arthur Koestler “The End of an Illusion” 1944.

My summary would be the preceding sentences:

The public know only their own frustrations
and cannot be expected to be grateful
for the air which [their democracy] contains.

So true. Memetic understanding of democratic freedoms is so far wide of reality, even more so in our social media-connected world. Koestler often expressed unpopular opinions, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a shrewd commentator on the facts of life.

The perennial argument for (c)onservatism – “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”


Also published on Medium.

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